ASK THE EXPERT
"PROPER PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE"
New construction is the core of my interest in
the wonderful world of golf. The first few
years of my shaping career was enjoyed
pushing the limits of big equipment carving
out features that blend harmoniously with the
surrounding terrain. Then polishing the
features with smaller equipment. It was not
until about 1993 that I started doing
renovation work as well.
I have been asked why I don't become an
architect? Well first, I draw with a bulldozer,
and second, when dealing with a new
construction project there are things that
architects do that work together with my talent
to give the client the best results for his
budget. In my opinion the best way to get
optimum results (under budget) is to hire a
reputable golf course architect to examine a
site and come up with a routing plan that
best utilizes the existing terrain, and draw
some grading plans accordingly. Then hire
an experienced shaper that understands golf
the way a real golf course shaper should,
and have him supervise the mass excavation
based on the architects plans. The shaper
should be authorized to use the plans as a
general guideline but he should be allowed
to stray from the plans just enough to
improvise and improve on the plans as he
sees fit for the native terrain.
Based on this construction concept you will
basically have two architects working
together toward a common goal. This will
only work with a qualified shaper. It is
imperative that your shaper have extensive
experience, as well as a desire/ability to be
productive. There are hundreds, if not
thousands of "shapers" out there, in fact it
seems that anybody that has ever pushed a
dirt clod on a golf course thinks that they are
qualified to call themselves a "shaper". If you
want to save money on your construction
project shopping around for the cheapest
shaper will be your biggest mistake. A
qualified shaper can save your project so
much money that his salary is paid for in
production alone, then you can enjoy the
fruits of his labor for the rest of your life.
A shaper should be experienced in all
aspects of golf course construction, he
should be able to help cut the right corners in
order to expedite the construction process
without sacrificing quality. Ask a shaper if he
can guarantee his production. I guarantee
you that if my production does not meet up to
your expectations then you owe me nothing
for my time. There is a "learning curve" that is
talked about when a shaper works with a
different architect for the first time. Diversity is
the most important attribute that a successful
golf course shaper can possess, that
combined with the fact that all architects like
what looks good means that this "learning
curve" should not impact the production of a
Please check out my list of construction
projects. There is a brief explanation of my
participation in each project. I am currently
working to give better detail for each project
but with as many new construction projects
as I have helped with, it will take me some
time to update every project.
HOW CAN I HELP YOU?
This is not meant to circumvent the knowledge of your superintendent, but to help utilize sound construction
practices with proper maintenance, in order to provide optimum results with lower maintenance cost's.
These answers are based on results that I have gotten from situations that I have encountered in the past, I
cannot guaranty the results that you will achieve. These answers should serve as a general guideline to
help you with your situation, but I suggest that you consult a person with extensive experience and an artistic
aptitude, to help you get optimum results.
DOES YOUR GOLF COURSE HAVE A PROBLEM AREA?
A problem area during a construction or renovation project, or after years of wear (and settling)? Even on
projects as small as solving a drainage problem in a seemingly insignificant area, sometimes we find
ourselves in need of a little consulting on the best approach to the problem in order to obtain a functional,
playable, as well as beautiful area, with the least amount of cost and disturbance. A way to transform a
"problem area" into something noticeably improved by everybody.
For over three decades I have been considered a "problem solver" in the construction industry, and most of
that has been on golf courses both new and renovated. I can usually design/build a solution to the problem
for a fraction of what it would cost if "put out to bid". I have turned an "unfair" trickle of water into a pond that
was in view and in play, so fast most members never knew the course was "under construction" till they
saw the pond. I have spent four weeks "massaging" a new course into playability, because the shaping got
out of control, just weeks before opening.
For most situations I can recommend a solution over the phone or Internet, FREE. With digital cameras
and emails, things can get moving pretty fast, and you're on your way to improving the golfers experience at
your course. You would be surprised at the improvements that can be done without devoting too many
resources. Some situations may require a site visit, which can be arranged. With on-site supervision and
shaping available for you to use my expertise to assist you throughout the various stages of your project,
large or small, globally. I can point out which improvements can be performed with your maintenance crew,
and which improvements would require my supervision and equipment expertise. I would prefer to work
with your maintenance crew, and with you providing the needed materials in order to avoid marked up
prices. If I need an architect, I know several that will give me a good price because they know the project will
go fast and smooth.
DOES MY COURSE MEET THE DELICATE BALANCE OF
I am all for eliminating fly mowing and hand raking bunkers. A golf course should strive to eliminate as
much of the hand work as it can in order to lower maintenance costs. Native grasses should be utilized as
much as feasible (saving water and mower time). Tees should be big enough to mow with ride-on
equipment (speeding up mowing time as well as allowing more "healing time" for divots). As much as I
hate to say it, a lot of sand traps seem to double as catch basins for surface water (terrible combination).
An Architect or experienced Shaper can help decide if a bunker should be converted to a basin, adjusted to
divert water around it, or eliminated altogether. Along with this decision, in my opinion there is way to much
"sand flashing" (sand placed high on the slope). Sand only needs to be flashed high enough to be seen if it
can be reached by the golfer (in my opinion it is not a fair hazard unless it can be seen by the golfer). Some
say "see how good it looks" but it does not look so good after a rain, or after years of rains cause
contamination of the sand. A little less flash still looks good (even after a rain) and can be maintained with a
Sand Pro. Some people like a ragged, jagged bunker edge, which means hand raking all the coves and
hand mowing all the edges... Is it worth it?
There are tons of "methods" of building bunkers. I have heard of concrete sub-grades and molten plastic
sprayed on the sub-grade to form a barrier to prevent contamination. To me this just exasperates the need
to shovel sand back up the slope after a heavy rain. There are liners that provide a layer between the
sub-grade and the sand for the rain water to travel through on its way to the drain. These work well for a
while IF installed correctly, but the first time that you snag the liner with a Sand Pro, the fun is over and the
work begins. I find it best to build low profile bunkers with lots of perforated pipe, and divert surface
drainage around the bunker. If you find that the addition of a nearby catch basin will help, that can usually be
accomplished very easily by connecting to the solid pipe that drains the bunker.
Tees should be Laser Leveled in order to insure usage of 100% of the tee space (not to mention it looks
way more professional). Typically a Tee should be at least 30X30 in order to be big enough to mow with
ride-on equipment and provide adequate tee space. The second tee and par 3's require more space due to
more usage and irons on par 3's. I have seen a terrible, wavy, driving range tee that was about 2 acres, but
you could only use about 25% of the tee. This means that if you only need 1/2 acre for a practice tee, if it
were Laser Leveled they would cut 75% of their mowing time, and they would have an additional 1.5 acres
to do something productive with.
Native grasses make a course look like it has always been there, saves on mowing and watering needs,
and just makes a golf course look less "manufactured", more "natural".
We have the experience and expertise to help your course identify sensitive areas that can be adjusted in
order to save maintenance needs, look more natural, and speed up play. Trust me, meeting the delicate
balance of beauty/playable/maintainable is the trend that architects are starting to embrace.
DO I NEED TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT FOR MY REPAIR/RENOVATION
I believe every golf course that has room to grow and plans to prosper, should have a qualified golf course
architect help them with a master plan. And I believe that if you are planning a full 18 hole renovation, then it
would be wise to have an architect on the team.
On the other hand: Small repairs or renovations like switching grass on greens, leveling/expanding tees,
adding/removing bunkers, and solving a drainage problem for example, are things that can be done without
the expense of an architect. The inclusion of an experienced shaper can be cheap insurance that your
project will have optimum results. My design/build concept combines a long history of golf, excellent
diversity of architectural experience, and the talent of an experienced shaper with the ability to make snap
decisions to keep the project moving forward productively.
In between these two scenarios: There are a handful of shapers out there that actually play golf, love the
game, understand design concepts, understands budget, and has the ability to produce. These guys can
cut so much money off a project that their salary is paid for. They can take your course to another level,
without the help of an architect. I know several architects that would step in to help as much or as little as
they are needed, if needed.
Generally I have found that great thing can be achieved with a collaboration of some golf course staff and
myself, putting together a renovation plan that will work toward that goal of beauty/playable/maintainable.
I HAVE AN AREA THAT DOES NOT DRAIN WELL!
What a huge issue this is. I have always said: No matter how good it looks, if it does not work, it is not any
good. If an area does not drain then clearly it is not any good.
I have heard that the three top priorities in building a golf course is:
With that being said, the first thing that I look at when shaping a golf course is how will it drain? I prefer good
positive surface drainage when possible however it is hard to get away from sub-surface drainage. When
considering pipe size err on the side of larger pipe, stay away from those puny 4" grates that clog with just a
few leaves, and try to avoid less than 1/2 % of fall on the pipe. I build my basins with a minimum 12" cast
iron grate (obviously there are exceptions where smaller grates are more aesthetically pleasing) with a
minimum of 2' of cover over the pipe. And when connecting a series of basins together I try to make the
connections at the basin, this makes researching problems easier in the future (nothing man made is
It is a shame that a lot of courses are built without the emphasis on the top three priorities listed above.
Then after suffering for years, the superintendent decides that he has to remedy the problem, but who
wants to trench through his course crossing irrigation, and dealing with settled trenches on an established
course? Some try the maintenance nightmare "French drain", some try airification in order to get the water to
soak into the ground. Everybody wants to try the cheapest remedy available, but sometimes you just have to
do a little re-shaping that will amend the problem with some creative low areas that can be drained via
I think of a drainage problem as a chance to dramatically improve a boring area into "eye candy" for the
golfer. So there you go, instead of suffering with a problem, turn the problem into a pleasure that can be
appreciated by everybody from the daily golfer, the guy on the mower, the superintendent, and the owner,
who sees more rounds because of the improvement made.
I feel like a well undulating fairway avoids the "Pasture Pool" look, provides more interesting challenges for
the golfer, and makes for a well drained golf course. Another win-win situation!
SHOULD I HAVE A SOCK ON MY PERFORATED DRAIN PIPE?
No. Simply put, NO!
I have never seen a situation that would warrant a sock over the pipe. If you feel like you need a sock, then
you need more gravel, or finer gravel. Remember, when the pipe clogs you can flush it out, when the sock
clogs you are done. You would have to dig up pipe in order to clean off the sock. I understand, it's like a
pre-cleaner on the air filter to a tractor, except you can easily clean or replace the pre-cleaner on your tractor.
In fact, I have replaced pipe that had a sock on it, and trust me, it's much easier to replace the pre-cleaner
on your tractor!
Anybody that has an appreciation for socked pipe I would like to hear from you, I still wonder how they sell
MY BUNKERS REQUIRE TOO MUCH MAINTENANCE! WHAT CAN I DO?
Unfortunately a lot of bunkers really serve double duty as a basin, and as everybody knows, the onslaught of
water wreaks havoc on the bunker. Sometimes it is as simple as bringing in a few yards of dirt to create
more of a lip on the high side of the bunker, then some fresh sod, and eliminate this maintenance issue.
Sometimes it gets more involved to the extent that I would advise on deciding whether to live with the issue
or eliminate the bunker altogether!
There are fabrics that claim to eliminate the wash, and they do a very good job for the short term, if they do
not "surface" either during maintenance or normal play. But they are not going to solve the "basin" problem.
In fact a nearby basin may address your issue. It could be drained with the existing bunker drain and
therefore help to minimize the costs of installation.
Another common mistake is having the sand "flash" up unnecessarily high. It usually only needs to flash up
high enough to be seen and therefore be a "fair" hazard. There is a rare occasion where a green-side
bunker needs to flashed up high in order to accomplish the "intimidation" factor! The fairway bunkers
should have a low enough lip to accept a longer iron to exit and therefore should not be as deep, and
therefore should require virtually no maintenance (unless you are suffering the "catch basin" effect).
There is also a liner system that prevents contamination by creating a barrier between the sand and the
soil, either by concrete or plastic. It does not do much to hold sand up on the slope, but it does prevent the
maintenance crew from contaminating the sand while raking the bunker. This should last the life of the
course, but I would hate to think about having to rake all that sand back up after every heavy rain.
In my opinion, the best solution is to minimize the basin effect, not flash the sand up any higher than is
necessary, and use a lot of perforated pipe (without a sock). Then use the right sand. Once again, spending
more money on the most appropriate sand could save money in the long run. Even then, you can rest
assured that there is no maintenance free sand trap or else the IRS would not allow the depreciation of golf
course features with sub-surface drainage.
DO I NEED MORE TEE SPACE? OR BETTER USE OF MY CURRENT TEE
The first thing a golfer looks at on a golf hole is where he is going to tee off from. I have seen some tees
particularly on par 3's where a lot of irons are used, that are just too small. But just as often, Ihave seen tees
that are too wavy and only offer usage of less than half the tee space. It is way cheaper to laser level your
tees than to make them bigger. Sometimes of course you may need to enlarge, and often that can be done
by lowering the tee slightly and using that dirt to increase the size. Therefore avoiding hauling dirt across
your golf course. I find a lot of tees that were built way higher than they needed to be, and can be lowered
significantly without sacrificing the view.
I have seen a practice tee that was about two acres and only offered usage of about 25%, I personally think
that they could have gotten by with a 1/2 acre of usable tee space. Who knows what they could have done on
the other 1.5 acres? Not to mention less tee to mow.
IS THE "NO-TILL" STYLE OF RE-GRASS RIGHT FOR MY GREENS?
Have you ever heard the saying: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is"? That's all I have to say
about this question.
When considering the alternatives, I do not know why anybody would go with the no-till approach when I
offer a re-grass method that, for very little additional money, addresses the percolation issue as well as
giving the course an opportunity to make minor adjustments to the contours of their greens if needed. When
removing 2-4 inches off the surface, and replacing that with fresh sand, you are setting your greens up for
years and years of low maintenance beauty.
Honestly, if you have brand new greens that for some reason (frost, drought, etc.) needed to be re-grassed.
You may be able to get by with a no-till type of re-grass. I know of a builder who built all of their greens with
straight sand, in order to save huge amounts of money during construction. Due to terrible root growth their
greens died in the recent hard winter in the south. They could probably benefit from this no-till style because
they have young greens, minimal percolation issues (due to minimal roots) and what minimal roots they do
have will decompose and nourish the new sprigs laid on top of them.
One of the things I have heard about this approach is weekly verti-cutting. This alone contradicts the concept
of lowered maintenance cost's.
In my opinion, everybody that is considering a no-till style of re-grass needs to really take a look at the profile
of their existing root zone to determine if they need to replace the top few inches. As well as decide if they
want to verti-cut their greens every week for the rest of their life.
MY GREENS HAVE BECOME ROUND AND SMALL...
All greens seem to get rounder and smaller over time. Not all greens were built with a tracer wire around
the perimeter, or the plastic barrier (interface) separating the root zone from the surrounding top soil. It is
easy enough to use a simple wire pin-flag as a probe to find the old edge. You can feel the difference
between pushing the flag into sand versus top soil, paint a dot at that point then paint a symmetric line
connecting the dots and you will see your original green shape.
Often when there is a green-side bunker, especially at the chipping green, the sand blasted out of the
bunker will build up the lip three feet or more! This forces the superintendent to mow the green smaller in
order to keep the resulting mound off the green. There comes a time when you need to rework the bunker
lip by getting rid of three plus feet of material in order to make the bunker more player friendly as well as get
your green back to its original size and shape. Did I mention lower maintenance?
This should be done before poisoning the green for your re-grass project.
HOW CAN I PREVENT FLOOD DAMAGE TO MY GREENS?
The attraction of a river working in harmony with a fairway is a great invitation to put fragile features too close
to harms way. If you are near a large river or stream you should be very careful about putting a green "down
by the water". A smaller creek would be safer to work into the landscape, while minimizing the possibility of
the creek rising to the point of covering the green.
I have built one 18 hole golf course where during floods there are Island Greens left undisturbed, but when
the water is down you cannot really tell that the elevations of the greens are manipulated to be a certain
elevation while still "fitting in" to the terrain.
I would suggest really thinking through the temptation to merge with the water. It is difficult to maintain
insurance on a course that is flood prone. When considering the cut/fill balance that must be met when
working in a flood plain, it is possible to find that balance of beauty/playable/maintainable without loosing
HOW DO I CHANGE THE GRASS ON MY GREENS?
It is hard to put a lifetime of experience on this topic, addressing all variations of situations that can be
encountered when undertaking such a project, in a space for a person to read in a timely manner. This
pretty well describes what I have found to be the most practical approach to get your greens back to the
Now is the time to address any problems that your greens may be having. This is the time to set up your
greens for another 15-20 years of low maintenance performance. There are tons of issues that can cause a
less than perfect putting surface. The main problem that I encounter is the build up of thatch that prevents
the percolation of water down to the roots, as well as the build up of "sludge" (for lack of a better word)
especially at the low areas of the green where the majority of the surface drainage passes by while trying to
get into the roots. This sometimes looks like something that washed up on a beach in Alabama recently.
After poisoning the grass, I suggest removing at least 2 inches of material off the top, and at the low areas
of the green you may need to remove even more in order to get the sludge off. Silica sand can then be used
to replace the removed material (this usually amounts to 25-50 tons of sand per green) which is then
roto-tilled into the existing root zone, which further penetrates the compacted root zone creating a uniform
organic growing medium. 1-2 light passes with a roller to firm it up a bit, then grade and float the green to
perfection matching the existing collar. Ready for a little fertilizer and sprigs.
This process also gives you the opportunity to correct small problems with the undulations on your green.
Notice I said "small problems", there is only so much you can do to a green when the collar is undisturbed.
Very seldom have I seen a green that needed to be taken all the way down to the gravel blanket. This is also
the time to correct a green that has been top-dressed for decades. I have seen evidence of up to 12 inches
of top-dressing, but now we are getting into a whole different renovation project.
This is a good time to have a professional inspect your greens and work with your superintendent to
suggest the most practical approach to put your greens back into the best possible condition that your
budget will allow. This will also help you determine if you can use Round Up to poison your existing grass
or if you need Methyl Bromide.
This is also the time to find out if your greens have gotten small and round, which is pretty much a guaranty.
|"A good shaper expedites all
aspects of golf construction."